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BOHM: The Whole and the Implicate Order

A. Bohm's Life.

Understanding David Bohm's life will help us understand his

Bohm studied under Oppenheimer and completed his doctorate in 1943. Bohm
taught at Princeton, where he wrote a book on quantum theory in 1951.
The work is still considered one of the best treatments of the topic. At
Princeton Bohm had a series of discussions with Einstein, who was opposed
to what was to become the standard dual-property, non-deterministic
interpretation of quantum physics. "God does not play dice with the
universe," Einstein said. These conversations led Bohm to develop
a new interpretation of quantum mechanics, one more consistent with
Bohm resurrected some suggestions made by deBroglie, who had
developed a "hidden variables" model in 1927, and in 1952, Bohm published
his own model. During the McCarthy era, Bohm was called to testify before
congress against Oppenheimer. Bohm refused, and though he was brought to
trial and acquitted of contempt of congress, he was fired by Princeton
and spent the rest of his life as an expatriate. In 1961 Bohm met
Krishnamurti, whose spiritual agenda and unique brand of materialism
influenced Bohm for the rest of his life.

B. Bohm's Critical Approach to the Physical Sciences.

Though his thought is revolutionary, Bohm's analytical method is
conservative. He accepts axioms that have served the physical sciences
since the time of Gallileo: (1) new empirical evidence should be treated
with skepticism; (2) no new entities should be postulated as explanatory
constructs unless necessary; (3) the ontology presupposed by the physical
sciences should be changed only as a last resort. As is well known,
quantum mechanics and relativity theory did force a change in the
physical sciences that impacted each of these axioms. Initially
skeptics ruled the day when the experimental evidence for these theories
was presented. Lorentz, for example, rejected the idea that the
Michelson-Morley experiment actually demonstrated the absence of
the ether in the universe. Lorentz's interpretation was consistent with
the experimental data and kept the ontology of physics, which included
the ether, static. Likewise, quantum physics challenged both the perfect
predictability of physical phenomena and the existence of descrete
entities with clearly defined properties. The most widely-accepted
resolution to the challenges of quantum mechanics, is that while the
gross pheomena of nature remain statistically predicable, certain sub-
atomic phenomena are unpredicable in their very nature and the entities
responsible for these changes have a dual nature: in certain
circumstances they behave as particles, and in others as waves. The
ontology of physics is now generally understood to include these
ambiguous entities.
Bohm argued that this revolution in the physical sciences brought
about by quantum mechanics was inconsistent. On the one hand, physics
had, since Galileo and Newton, been historically committed to ontological
foundationalism: the belief that there was a "bottom" to the physical
sciences and that this foundation would not only be discoverable, but
would also be firmly based on the pure determinism of
mechanism and fully describable in terms of fundamental entities whose
qualitative transformations would be fully predictable by inflexible laws
of nature. Foundationalism in physics, as Bohm put it, was committed to
the belief that there is a finite set of laws that "permit an exhaustive
treatment of the whole of nature" (Bohm, 1957, p. 134).
One the other hand, physics was now claiming to have discovered the
bottom, in the form of quantum mechanics, but at the same time it claimed
that the ultimate principles governing the fundamental entities were not
fully predictable, but depended on chance.
In his 1957 book Causality and Chance, Bohm listed five criticisms
of contemporary physics (see Bohm, 1957, pp. 132-134).
1. If the prevailing interpretation of quantum physics were right, pure
mechanism is wrong.
2. The belief is foundationalism is not necessary for physics. It is
possible to have an evolutionary view of knowledge in the physical
3. Foundationalism does not reflect a scientific attitude. To accept any
law as absolute and final closes the door to further inquiry.
4. Experiment shows that physical laws apply to a range of phenomena
only. It is not possible to establish experiments that cover every
possible condition.
5. Although new laws appear to converge on "the truth," we have no reason
to expect that this will always happen. New conditions may introduce new
laws and new physical qualities that are not expected. We have no
reason, other than blind belief, to assume that there is a finite set of
laws that "permit an exhaustive treatment of the whole of nature" (Bohm,
1957, p. 134).

Bohm concluded, in my opinion correctly, that physicists should assume
that the kinds of significant qualities in the universe is unlimited.
The idea of the "qualitative infinity of nature" is both scientifically
and philosophically sound. It opens the door to further research, urging
us to continue to discover more complex structures in nature.
At the same time, however, Bohm also realized that is was necessary
to preserve, as far as possible, some of the useful, conservative
impulses that have guided the history of physics. Bohm employed a
mixture of pragmatism and instrumentalism. He argued that although a
proper scientific attitude implied an infinity of possibilities,
there is still a place for the notion of substances in nature: all things
must have some "degree of autonomy and stability in their modes of being"
(Bohm, 1957, p. 139).

This is necessary (a) in order to allow things to preserve their identity
for some time; and (b) in order for things to be distinguished from other
things. After all, if "things" do not "exist," it will be impossible to
formulate laws that describe their qualitative transformations under a
range of experimental conditions.

These experimental conditions establish simultaneously not only a set of
substances and their properties but also a set of background conditions
that allow the properties to be described. That is to say, experimental
conditions only capture an aspect of a system. But because there is,
potentially, an infinite number of aspects to the whole of nature,no
system of determinate law can ever attain perfect validity. For
every such system works with only a finite number of things (Bohm, 1957,
p. 141).

This system Bohm later called the Whole. It alone was ultimately real.
Experimental conditions, then, capture only a part of the Whole, and it
is a always matter of interpretation to decide which elements in an
experimental condition are due to the characteristics substances, and
which are due some other aspect of the Whole that is not captured by the
When it comes to interpreting which aspects of experiments were due
to chance and which were due to laws, Bohm argued that we cannot always
be sure. Might it not be that "chance" is simply used as an
"explanation" to cover over what is due to some undiscovered law that
operates at a deeper level of the Whole? Since we may presume that the
Whole has an infinite number of aspects, it is incumbent upon us
to consider such a possibility.
With these guidelines, Bohm sought to provide an interpretation of
quantum mechanics that he felt was both consistent with the history of
physics (conservative) and his idea of the Whole. Before turning to
Bohm's quantum interpretation, it may be instructive to consider how
Bohm's style of thinking might be applied to a more familiar case. (Be
it noted, physicists may have a difficult time accepting this analogy,
finding it factually flawed; but that is irrelevant to the point of the

C. The "Baseball" Analogy.

Consider the path followed by a baseball when thrown from the pitcher's
mound to the catcher. As everyone knows, the path followed by this
baseball, all other things being equal (such as air resistance, spin on
the ball, and so on) is precisely determined by the law of gravity. The
path of a thrown baseball is represented below.

P ----> X X

^Catcher catches ball here.

Assume that scientists have investigated this phenomenon many times, and
that the law is verified each time and the predictions are always

Now let us suppose that we one day discover that although our predictions
are always fulfilled, if we measure more precisely we discover that the
ball is in fact oscillating, in a somewhat random manner, during its
flight. The actual path, with all the positions filled in, is more like
that shown below.

P ----> X X X X X
^Catcher catches ball here.

There is one way to easily explain this phenomenon. As a statistical
generalization, the average path of the ball still remains the same. The
"law" of gravity, as a predicting tool, is not invalidated. We do have,
apparently, another, NEW phenomenon that operates within the parameters
of the "law" of gravity. At present, the source of these random
variations is unexplained.

One might now object, anticipating our conclusion, that this is not at
all what happens in quantum physics. At this point, it does not matter.
We are only concerned with establishing that a "law" of motion may turn
out to be a statistical average caused by the influence of TWO factors:
1. a field of force, and
2. random variations of an object moving within that field of force.
Let us change our thought experiment to more closely approximate the
situation in quantum mechanics. Suppose we are now using what, for all
practical purposes, seems to be a very "baseball-like" object in similar
experiments. But we soon discover that now the Catcher, UNDER CERTAIN
CONDITIONS, actually is found to catch the ball in different spots, even
though it is pitched the same each time. Sometimes he catches it higher
than expected, sometimes lower.

P ----> X X X X X
X X X < Catcher
sometimes catches ball here
X X <Catcher
catches ball on average here
X < Catcher
sometimes catches ball here

Neither he nor anyone else is able to predict where the next ball will be
caught. There is, however, a definite pattern to the scattering of his
catching locations that is statistically quite predictable. His "average
catching spot" remains very predicable.

How can we explain this? If you are inclined to say, "well,
evidentially, the ball-like object is oscillating somehow in accordance
with the application of some force field, perhaps a new one," you have,
essentially, followed Bohm's intuition.

Observe, if you are inclined this way, that this is indeed a "natural"
conclusion based on our prior reasoning about the baseball oscillating
under the force of gravity and producing a statistically valid result for
the "law" of gravity. Those unfamiliar with quantum mechanics will be
shocked to learn that this is not the position most widely-accepted by
physicists. It is, rather, that some things are NOT and cannot be
expected to be anything like an ordinary ball. These "things" behave as
if they can be either waves and particles. In effect, the "tradition"of
particles and fields is overthrown, and we have a whole new ball game.

There are powerful reasons to accept the standard version of quantum
mechanics, which drastically changes the fundamental ontology of physics.
However, as we have argued above, Bohm offers some powerful reasons to
question the style of thinking that results in the standard

D. Application of Principles to Quantum Mechanics and the Whole.

Let us now follow Bohm's actual argument concerning the double slit
experiment that establishes the dilemma for quantum physics. If at all
possible, he suggested, why not maintain the concepts of fields and
particles? The standard interpretation of the double slit experiment is
well known. If a single slit is provided between an electron source and
a photographic plate, the distribution of results matches what one would
expect if electrons were particles randomly passing through the slit at
various trajectories. When the experimental conditions change (when two
slits are provided), electrons do not pass randomly through one slit or
the other; rather, they create a distribution pattern on the photographic
plate that corresponds to the interference pattern of an electromagnetic
wave source. The standard interpretation given to this was not, as one
might expect, that electrons have a single nature that exists
independently of these experimental conditions, but, usually, that either

(a) electrons are mathematical abstractions and only the experimental
results, which are determined only by statistical variations, exist; or
(b) that electrons may be said to exist as "dual-mode substances," but
this assertion must be understood as only having instrumental value
consistent with option "a".

Bohm argued that the Schrodenger equation, used to predict the results of
these experiments as probabilistic outcomes, could be interpreted as a
new species of a traditional fields and particles. If the particle is
small enough (approximating a mathematical point) and is subject to the
effects of both a field that provides an impetus in a general direction
for a path in space, and random oscillations within that
field, then the path of the electron will follow a statistically
predictable path (since its path is determined by both a force and random
variations with the path determined by
the force).

The situation at the subatomic level is analogous to the well-
established behavior of particles in fields at the level of gross matter,
as demonstrated by the example of Browniam Motion. The trajectory of
smoke particles is determined by the force of gravity and the impact of
molecules in the air. The trajectory of the smoke particles is therefore
only statistically predicable and the apparently random variations
outside of the path determined by the force of gravity are due to
unobserved particles.
Bohm's reasoning is that something similar happens at the level of
quantum reality. A force field, call it "the Quantum Force" (represented
by the Schrodenger symbol, psi-squared) acts on particles that are in
turn also influenced by unobserved impacts (or forces) from a layer of
reality below. Or, alternately (consistent with part of our
example of the baseball above), the field itself oscillates due to
unknown reasons.

Thus, parallelism both in method of explanation and ontology between the
macroscopic and microscopic realms is maintained. (See Table 1).

An objection will, no doubt, be raised at this point. We have included a
hidden realm (Alpha) that explains the phenomenal appearances of the
subatomic realm. If we take Bohm seriously, there could be a realm
beneath Alpha that explains its phenomenal appearances, and so on through
an infinite regress. I am at present uncertain of the applicability of
this objection to Bohm's philosophy. It is one thing to
say that there are levels of reality that support each other and another
to say that the ultimate reality is the Whole, and this includes many
"levels" that remain unknown tous. I believe Bohm means to say the
However, the problem of the infinite regress, even if it can be
solved, does not remove a related objection to Bohm's philosophy. As we
have seen, he reintroduces "substances" but Bohm's substances may appear
to critics to be nothing more than instrumental place holders; properties
emerge not from them, but from levels of the flux. Nothing holds these
properties together. At best, they are like Hume's or Buddhism's bundle
of independently arising properties. The hypothesis that these
properties "exist" independently, arising from the universal flux, is
merely a cover story for the inexplicable.

Moreover, critics have pointed out that unless Bohm's theory can be
disproved; that is, unless there exist certain predictions belonging to
the Bohm model and a crucial experiment that can measure whether or not
these predictions are borne out, the theory remains a meaningless
hypothesis. Bohm's theory, critics will say, suffers from
too much flexibility. Whatever new properties emerge in experimental
situations, a new level of Bohmian reality can be invented to cover the


In spite of these powerful criticisms, I believe that we should examine
Bohm's ideas if for nothing else than the fact that the notion of the
Whole brings us back to the human situation. In Bohm's view there is and
can be no gap between the physical and the mental. Clearly, in his view,
it is matter that thinks, and therefore matter must have within it the
capability of supporting human thought. Indeed, all our actions,
thought, memories, and imaginings are part of the Whole. In fact, some
of it is mechanical. Bohm says:

Thought is, in essence, the active response of memory in every phase of
life. We include in thought the intellectual, emotional, sensuous,
muscular and physical responses of memory. (Bohm, 1980, p. 50)

It is clear that thought, considered in this way as the response of
memory, is basically mechanical in its order of operation. (Bohm, 1980,
p. 50)

But some principle in the Whole must account for human creativity.
Chance, Bohm argued, cannot account for it. Bohm likened inspiration, or
seeing that certain thoughts
are relevant to a given situation, to what he called "perception" rather
than a
mechanical process:.

The perception of whether or not any particular thoughts are relevant or
fitting requires
the operation of an energy that is not mechanical, an energy that we
shall call
intelligence. (Bohm, 1980, p. 51)

This process, or capability, of intelligence Bohm thought was the key to
tying our
brains and the processes that occur in them to the rest of the universe.
These processes
are not separate.

Intelligence and material process have thus a single origin, which is
ultimately the
unknown totality of the universal flux. In a certain sense, this implies
that what have
been commonly called mind and matter are abstractions from the universal
flux, and
that both are to be regarded as different and relatively autonomous order
within the one
whole movement." (Bohm, 1980, p. 53)

One might then suggest that in intelligent perception, the brain and
nervous system
respond directly to an order in the universal and unknown flux..." (Bohm,
1980, p. 53)

Now, it may seem that we have come full circle. This description of mind
and matter
as abstractions, as relatively autonomous levels of one underlying
reality which is
neither, sounds like property dualism. But it is not. These are not
properties of the
brain, but manifestations of the Whole. The Ideal Observer of reality
that can discover
its fundamental laws has been swallowed up in the flux of reality itself.
Bohm's vision
here is Hegelian: the various stages of the absolute become manifest
through the acts
of the Absolute itself and consciousness knows them by bringing itself
into a form akin
to it. Thus, our connectedness with the total human situation is
preserved and that is
the ultimate goal of any philosophical investigation.